When I was in high school my Grandma, in her seventies, fell and broke her hip. It was the kiss of death back in those days. I remember my Mom telling people, friends of Grandma or the older folks at church, what had happened and they’d reply with an “Oh, I’m so sorry”, which loosely translated into “She ain’t gonna make it”. Grandma struggled to recover, but did succumb to complications and general fatigue a few months later.
Losing her was devastating. I had live with her for a good portion of my life – my mother was a single mom until she married my father (who later adopted me). Then when teenage angst turned into teenager rage, I lived with her for a long time until family relations improved. Even when I wasn’t living there, I was spending the night on weekends, going to the bingo and helping her shop, as often as possible. She was the most important person in my life.
I found out later that one of the complications she had was breast cancer. Though that is probably not what finally laid her to rest, it certainly didn’t aid in any chance she might have had for recovery. Odds are she had been walking around with breast cancer for a decade, undetected because she hadn’t done any self-screenings and certainly hadn’t had a mammogram.
Maybe back then (we’re talking what, twenty years ago?) they didn’t do mammograms on a woman of her age? I find it hard to believe, but maybe. The more likely scenario is that she just didn’t have one done. A woman, a heavy, lifetime smoker no less, in her seventies has far better things to talk about when making the monthly stop at her physician’s office I imagine. Had it not been for the broken hip, breast cancer would have likely taken her life in the end.
That was my frame of reference for breast cancer: something far, far away; something that happened to much older people; way, way down the road.
In the last four months, two people close to me have discovered they have breast cancer – my boss and my friend. Today, I was informed P’s preschool teacher has breast cancer. She was in remission for a long time following a double mastectomy, but now the cancer is back.
Three amazing women close to my heart are now battling this disease. It has stopped me in my tracks. This is no longer a disease affecting nameless, faceless people , people decades older than me, people so far removed from me. This is effecting women just like me – mothers and wives and friends. My friends.
To be honest, it is scaring the shit out of me. Things like this have an easy way of making you think of your own health and question the choices you’ve made to date. It’s probably the only good thing to come out of this trauma my loved ones are going through. Their struggle becomes a glaring reminder to take care of myself, to get the check-ups, to eat right, to self-screen, to stop putting things off that I know I should be doing.
This is the point of this post: to make each of you think and remember to prioritize your health and well-being. To remind you that too many people count on you everyday not to.
The reality is that of the one-hundred or so people who will read this, someone is going to get breast cancer, someone likely already has it. But that’s hardly where the game ends. Early detection and treatment saves lives. It’s as simple as that. So do those self-examinations, get the mammograms that are recommended. Know the signs and listen to your body. Respond just like you would if your child or loved one was sick: DON’T HESITATE IF YOU THINK SOMETHING IS WRONG.
And never forget, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Drop the extra pounds, stop smoking, eat better, know your family history and your personal risk factors. Do what you need to do to live the best and longest life possible.
Yearly, we recognize October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But for women EVERY month needs to be. Every month we need to check in with ourselves, take a moment and do what needs to be done. We must be aware that WE are our number one defense against this enemy. Are YOU due for a mammogram? When was the last time you felt yourself up? Do it today – schedule it, grope it, think about it. Remind someone you love to do the same. It’s up to you and me sister.
And after you tend to your own health, maybe you could send a few prayers to my boss, my friend and my daughter’s teacher? They are brilliant, brave women. They are not statistics or culminations of risk factors. They are facing the odds we fear.
Someday, they will call themselves breast cancer survivors.